by Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire
"Lamkhyer" from Remanence (the duo of Brian McWilliams and John Phipps) is the second fantastic EP I've heard in recent months (the first was Ben Swire's "Equilibrium"). But where Swire explored forlorn urban electronica, Remanence's "Lamkhyer" is an excursion into assorted ambient-tribal and dark floating soundscapes comprised of both ethereal and primal elements. Comparisons abound. In fact, in the liner notes to the special version of the CD (meant for radio airplay since the "official" version is a 3-inch CD) the artists themselves bring up contemporaries such as Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, Brian Eno, and Roach and Vir Unis (depending on what track is reference in the notes).
Before even listening to the CD, though, you're in for a treat because this is a beautiful CD to just open and examine, packaged in a brown-tone sturdy parchment-like paper sleeve that is elaborately folded yet not in the least bit pretentious or confusing. Liner notes are copious and are a must-read, since the song titles' meanings come into play (everything appears to be focused on various tenets of Zen spirituality). I could go into this aspect of the CD in great detail, but honestly, the artists do a better job of it in the liner notes and on their website. I'll just stick to reviewing the music. I'll merely excerpt this from the Remanence website "In Tibetan [there is a] group of slogans known as lamkhyer: lam meaning 'path' and khyer meaning 'carrying.' In other words, whatever happens in your life should be included as part of your journey... Whatever happens, you don't [have to] react to it..."
There are three tracks on "Lamkhyer". First up is the longest song, which is the title track. Immediate comparisons to the lush yet darkly sensual ambient tribal work of Roach (alone or with either Vidna Obmana or Robert Rich) are obvious. Rainsticks, floating synths, hand percussive effects (wood sticks, rattles, bells), and flute samples (possibly) all snake their way through an undercurrent of dark mysterious drones. The overall effect is both intoxicatingly beautiful and also foreboding and primal. Frame drums enter the song and the power of the track just grows and grows. At a little over nine-minutes, "Lamkhyer" is a tremendous track.
The second song is the non-tribal entry on the EP. "K'an (the Abyss)" has an ominous title and while it has some dark elements, it's also strangely calming. Flowing water gently fades in, along with what sounds like tropical birdsong. A soothing almost melodious drone slowly wafts in while a series of random gentle bell tones are struck and echo into the distance. Minor key shadings to later drones and low register washes contribute to a sense of unease, along with strange heavily-echoed scratching noise effects in the background. Again, while many would find this eerie, for some reason, I think it's more neutral than that (it must be the bell tones).
Ending the album is "The Leftward Path" which signals a return to ambient tribal territory but this time with a hint of Roach's/Vir Unis' fractal groove midtempo rhythms. Ultra-lush synths open the track while alien whirring sounds circle around the periphery. The electronic percussion builds in intensity gradually (actually, everything on this EP builds at a slow pace, which is a big plus as far as I'm concerned). Frame drums are added, along with a few other interesting percussive textures as the track becomes more of an outright tribal tune and less of an excursion into what Roach/Unis refer to as "elegant futurism."
There's not a lot more I can say except that I think this is an outstanding recording and is a must-have for fans of everything from "Soma" (Roach/Rich) to "Blood Machine" (Roach/Unis) to the recordings of Tuu, O Yuki Conjugate, and Temps Perdu. As with any great EP (such as Ben Swire's "Equilibrium") what "Lamkhyer" leaves you with is one thing: a fierce desire for MORE! And if there's a better endorsement for a CD out there than that, I've never read it. Highly recommended - obviously!